Review: #NotYourPrincess

Title: #NotYourPrincess
Editors: Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale
Publisher: Annick Press
Genre: Nonfiction collection
Pages: 109
Availability: October
Review copy: Final copy provided by publisher

Summary: Whether looking back to a troubled past or welcoming a hopeful future, the powerful voices of Indigenous girls and women across North America resound in this book. In the same visual style as the bestselling Dreaming in Indian, #NotYourPrincess presents an eclectic collection of poems, essays, interviews, and art that combine to express the experience of being a Native woman. Stories of abuse, intergenerational trauma, and stereotyping are countered by the voices of passionate women demanding change and realizing their dreams. Sometimes outraged, often reflective, but always strong, the women in this book will give teen readers insight into the lives of women who, for so long, have had their history hidden and whose modern lives have been virtually invisible.

Review: #NotYourPrincess is another fabulous collection brought to us by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale. The magic of the book is that the many voices are seen and heard through a wide variety of formats with the design of the book framing the pieces beautifully. In most cases artwork compliments the texts and the words provide context for the artwork. There are images on nearly every spread and it’s a magnificent visual experience.

The stories shared both visually and in text reveal what it means to these women to be Native. They share challenges, triumphs, losses, hopes, family ties and so much more. These are stories that acknowledge the pain of the past, but also point to strength, resilience, and hope for the future. In the essay “Reclaiming Indigenous Women’s Rights,” Nahanni Fontaine (Anishinaabe) explains it this way, “When we begin to understand the colonial legacy and its collateral damage to the minds and bodies of Indigenous women, we can begin to forgive, accept, and heal ourselves from the countless hurtful, damaging ways in which this trauma manifests itself.”

These stories do not ignore the past, but they are very much stories of the present and the future. The many voices sound out against the stereotypes that often prevent people from seeing and recognizing Native women. The women ask to be seen as they are – not as they are expected to be. This is especially obvious in “A Conversation with a Massage Thereapist” by Francine Cunningham (Cree/Métis). The questions the massage therapist asks reveal much about biases people can have. The therapist asks, “What are you?” Indigenous and Cree are answers, but they are pretty much discounted as the therapist responds with, “You don’t really look it.” After learning that the person was raised in the city, “Oh, well, I guess you’re not a real one then?” It doesn’t take long to realize this person has completely succumbed to stereotypes. In “The Invisible Indians,” white-faced, red-haired Shelby LIsk (Mohawk) writes about a similar point of view. “They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.”

There are also many examples of confident young women who are using their strengths. We see young women like AnnaLee Rain Yellowhammer (Hunkapapa, Standing Rock Sioux) who are demanding to be heard. She’s an activist fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been raising her voice loud and clear in defense of the land, water, and her tribe.

Lisa Charleyboy describes this as a “love letter to all young Indigenous women trying to find their way.” This is an excellent description. Readers will find love and encouragement here on every page.

Recomendation: #NotYourPrincess should be available in all young adult collections. Get it as soon as it’s available.

Extras:

Excerpt available here

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Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

The Epic Crush of Genie LoTitle: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Author: F.C. Yee
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books
Availability: Available now!

Summary: The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Way back in 2016 (feels like a millenia ago, huh?), this tweet by Zen Cho about a new book came across my dash. And because I’m easily persuadable, I was immediately on board. The bit about the heroine becoming powerful enough to “break through the gates of Heaven with her fists” was my jam.

Imagine how psyched I was when, over a year later, the book came out and I saw mentions of the monkey king. Sun Wukong in YA lit? Hell yes. Get me some toast, because this was even more my jam. I know I say this a lot, but this book did not disappoint.

The heroine Genie Lo is a super motivated elite SF prep student with her eyes on nothing but the prize – Ivy League glory and a better life. When new kid on the block Quentin Sun shows up and tell her that she’s really someone straight out of Chinese mythology, she has to step up to bat to defend the people she loves against a host of monsters. Genie’s character – cynical, motivated, yet unwaveringly protective of her friends and family – is what drives the story and kept me reading through the night. And it was awesome to see how she clashed and then worked with Quentin.

Speaking of Quentin… I’m not going to spoil anything. But, also, that reveal of who Genie was? I laughed, then had to take a reading break while I digested what had happened. That was amazing.

Basically, this is a must-read for everyone. But if you’re Chinese American (or, like me, Taiwanese American), this is a next level absolutely-no-excuses-must-read. There were so many moments that I knew all too well — like the relief of seeing your mom get to have a meaningful conversation with someone else in Chinese and be happy. Not only that, I’m from the Bay Area and attended a super competitive, majority (86%!) Asian school growing up. What Genie was going through was a hauntingly familiar creature.

Now I’m just rambling. Look, just put The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on your reading list. You’ll love it, I promise you. And if there’s going to be a sequel, someone tell me ASAP.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Book Review: Little & Lion

Title: Little & Lion
Author: Brandy Colbert
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 330 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: In Bookstores Now!

Summary: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Review: I’m just going to say this from the start – I loved this book! I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading it because I loved Suzette so much. I loved her messiness, her doubts, her loves, but most importantly I loved the relationship she had with her brother, and the importance it had in her life. Little & Lion is not a light-hearted story by any means but it does have wonderful touching moments between Suzette and a number of other characters that make Brandy Colbert’s second novel a deeply moving story.

As I said before the heart of the story is Suzette’s (Little) relationship with her step-brother Lionel (Lion). The two are only a year apart and have an extremely close relationship. At the beginning of the book, their relationship is a bit in the awkward stage as Suzette is returning from the boarding school she was sent to by her parents while Lionel began the initial stages of treatment. Suzette feels like she abandoned Lionel and hopes that their relationship remains the same. I like that the story begins with Suzette and Lion together and we get a chance to see their bond pick up where it left off when Suzette left for school 9 months earlier. The easiness that the two had, the love for each other, just emanated off the page. The two share intimate secrets and truly trust each other so much that Suzette was the first to spot something was wrong with her brother when his mania begins to start after he stops taking his medicine. This decision brings much personal conflict for Suzette as she believes her brother is making a mistake, but because of the guilt she feels for being away while he was going through treatment she keeps his secret. It is Little’s love for Lion that is the heart of many of the decisions she makes and what really draws me to her.

While Suzette is dealing with her brother’s issues, she is also in the process of discovering her own sexuality, specifically realizing that she is bisexual. At her boarding school, she developed a relationship with her roommate, Iris, that unfortunately had a heartbreaking end. Suzette blames herself for the break-up, but also wonders if she was just attracted to Iris because of who her roommate was or if she is actually attracted to girls. Coming home further confuses her when she begins to have feelings for her close male friend Emil. The confusion, the questioning that Suzette felt was very real and written in a such a manner that tenderly shows the internal turmoil discovering one’s sexuality can be for a teenager. Luckily, Suzette is surrounded by a supportive best friend and a loving family, and because of this is able to safely navigate her feelings and explore this realization of herself. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say I like the choice that Suzette makes and feel that it is very true to her character and her growth throughout the novel.

I greatly enjoyed Colbert’s debut novel, Pointe, but I think I love Little & Lion more. I think what made me smile was that Colbert adds spots of “wokeness” where Suzette responds to racism, sexism, ignorance to bipolar disease, and the misconceptions about bisexuality. Those moments didn’t feel preachy at all, but an example of how folks should respond when faced with prejudice. What also made me smile was the all the wonderful touches to life in Los Angeles throughout the novel. As an Angelino (yes, that is what we are called) seeing all the local places and hidden gems mentioned just added to the beauty of the novel. All of these aspects combined made for a novel that I truly loved and stayed with me long after I finished reading it. I want to know what happens next with Suzette and travel with her in the next phase of her life.

Recommendation: Buy It Now!

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Review: Allegedly

Title: Allegedly
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 387
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us.

Review: Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel is a hard-hitting examination of what it’s like for a teen girl to spend a significant portion of her life in jail and then move to a group home. Jackson tackles issues like racism, child (sexual) abuse, mental illness, poverty, and a justice system that just doesn’t care about the people trapped inside it. Mary’s struggle to forge a path for herself after getting out of jail is a gripping story, filled with people who want to help her and others who just want to tear her down or are entirely unequipped to be useful.

Mary is a compelling narrator whose reader-friendly goals (survive the group home, go to college, and save her baby) make it easy to root for her. However, she is also an unreliable narrator, and I found it fascinating to compare her thoughts to the (also biased and unreliable) excerpts from court documents, books, etc. about her and her case. Mary’s particularly difficult relationship with her mother was fascinating, since she had many reasons to hate her—but she still wanted affection and love from her mother all the same.

The group home Mary is sent to is a nightmarish place where it’s every girl for herself and the adults do the barest minimum to collect their checks. Contrasting all those awful people and events against the better people and things in Mary’s life made the briefer moments of kindness a welcome relief. Ms. Claire and Ms. Cora are particular standouts; I have mixed feelings about Ted due to the age gap between him and Mary.

I am not enamored with the ending, which is difficult to talk about without massive spoilers. Suffice it to say that I felt that the final twist undermined some of the good work the narrative had done earlier, particularly since it seemed redundant in light of the conclusion to Sarah’s story arc. It was not the ending I wanted, but I’m not sure that what I wanted would have produced a better story.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Allegedly is a compelling story told from the POV of an unreliable narrator who explores the injustices in the justice system and how hard it is to try to get back on your feet. Opinions will be divided on the ending, but overall, Jackson’s debut novel is worth a look if you’re up for a story that tackles difficult–and timely–topics.

Extras

Author Interview: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

The Darker Side of the Story: Tiffany D. Jackson talks ALLEGEDLY

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Review: The Library of Fates

Title: The Library of Fates
Author: Aditi Khorana
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 354
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Review:The Library of Fates is a timely book that calls for action on the part of individuals. Amrita is not sure who she is, but in the midst of turmoil she must find out what she is willing to do and what she believes. Mala, the woman who helped raise Amrita, explains that you find out who you are by the choices you make and the actions you take. When we reflect on what we do and how we decide things, we see what is actually important to us. I really love that in this discussion Mala also tells Amrita “Develop some swagger” and “You’re far more powerful than you know.” I think many young people can stand to hear such encouragement.

As Khorana mentioned in her author’s note, some issues in our nation right now seem to be much like the things happening in this book. The Emperor Sikander comes from a place where things are wonderful for the wealthy, “but if your poor, or disabled, if you’re a foreigner, or even a woman, Macedon isn’t so kind. This country is built on the backs of the disenfranchised.” The author explains the moral of the story at the beginning of the book. “When we act with only our selfish interests in mind, disregarding the rights and experiences of others, everybody loses. But when we act in the service of the greater good, even if it costs us something–even if it costs us a lot–we are deeply and profoundly transformed by love, empathy, and wisdom.” If things matter to us, we can’t stand by and just watch – we must act and create change. Amrita decides to do something, but definitely struggles as she tries to figure out how best to help her kingdom. There are so many unknowns and that is more than a little terrifying to her. Amrita’s physical and emotional journeys are both intriguing.

Amrita has grown up hearing stories of magic, but she has also been taught that as royalty, logic and strategy can save the day. Amrita hasn’t put a lot of faith in magic, but as her world is crumbling and she sees possible evidence of magic, she begins to question her unbelief. The book is filled with magic and reminds me that there is more to our world than what we can see. I tend to believe that if we are still and listen, the world will share its mysteries with us. They may not be quite as fantastic as what Amrita and Thala experience, but there are still plenty of mysteries to discover if we only pay attention.

And yes, there are also some romantic relationships within this tale. The relationships do have a physical aspect, but companionship tends to have a high priority.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy fantasy with a little romance.

Extras:
Interview

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Interview with Abdi Nazemian

Today we welcome Abdi Nazemian to the blog. We’re excited to learn more about his new novel The Authentics, which was released earlier this month.

Summary: The Authentics is a fresh, funny, and insightful novel about culture, love, and family—the kind we are born into and the ones we create.

Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.

But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.

With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. As everything in her life is spinning out of control—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?


How did you find your way to this story of family and identity?

I started my career as a screenwriter, and I still work in film and television. I love that medium, but one of the unfortunate realities of the business is that getting movies about Iranian characters made is extremely difficult. I’ve tried many times to write stories that explore my culture for the screen, and inevitably the conversation turns to the lack of bankable stars that could be cast in the roles. Take a look at some of the highest-profile movies about Iranians that Hollywood has made for a peek into this problem. Gael Garcia Bernal and Alfred Molina are Hollywood’s version of Iranians. Jake Gyllenhaal is their Prince of Persia. The argument for these decisions is that there are no Iranian stars, but how can there be if no one gives Iranian actors a chance? I’ve always loved books, and at some point in my screenwriting career, I had this epiphany that in the literary world, no one could tell me they needed a celebrity to publish my book. Then I discovered that writing novels was also a far more personal journey than screenwriting, and that liberated me to write stories that explored issues of family and identity that were (and still are) closest to me. For this particular story, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that helped me find my way, but I think the biggest inspiration was my own children, who were born with the help of an incredible surrogate, and who are being raised in a very modern, very multicultural family. They were babies when this book began to take shape, but I projected forward to the kinds of questions they might have, and I began to write a fictional story inspired by those questions. And then, luckily, Daria took on a life of her own. She had a lot to say. And for the record, I have no secrets from my own children.

What did you like most about Daria?

I love so much about Daria, but perhaps what I love most is her passion. That passion is partly inspired by myself as an older teen (I was very outspoken about my views on right and wrong), but mostly inspired by many young people I know who are devoted to speaking out for what they believe in. Daria’s pride in her culture, her commitment to her friends, her patience and empathy for her family, are all offshoots of that passion. She is a deeply moral person, and wants to live a life of truth. Sometimes circumstances make that difficult, and that’s what the book explores, but Daria never strays far from her core desire to be honest and make moral decisions. I love that about her. Also, I love her capacity for forgiveness.

What forms of media were you most interested in when you were a teen? What kinds of stories got your attention?

Before my teen years, I was a huge reader (a lot of Ramona books, endless readings of Charlotte’s Web and an insatiable obsession with Archie Comics).  By the time I became a teenager, I developed a fascination with Old Hollywood. I watched old movies voraciously, everything from film noir to musicals to silent film. Those films transported me to a fantasy version of the world, which was very appealing to me as a kid who usually wanted to crawl out of his dark, gay skin. I read a lot back then, though YA wasn’t the thriving world it is now, and there were few diverse reads to be found. My favorite book as a teen was Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I worshipped it. And in my later teen years, I discovered James Baldwin, who remains my favorite author. His writing is ridiculously good, and perhaps sadly, more relevant than ever. If we all read his words and studied them, we’d probably live in a much more beautiful world.

Though this is your debut YA novel, you’re not new to writing. Did writing The Authentics have any unique challenges?

It absolutely did. First and foremost, this was my first young adult novel, and I love YA, so I wanted to enter this world with a story that would have an impact and feel honest. Also, this is a far more personal piece of writing than most of my screenwriting work. This is a chance for me to represent the people I love most: Iranian-American characters, LGBTQ people of color, young people questioning their identity, and struggling with how to define themselves in a world obsessed with labels. I am painfully aware of how rare depictions of minorities are in our stories, and so I felt an added responsibility here to get it right, and to make sure that all my love for these characters came through loud and clear.

Being authentic is obviously a focus in this story. What does it mean to you to be authentic? How does that look in everyday life?

The word “authentic” is thrown around so often these days that it starts to lose any real meaning. Sometimes it’s a badge of honor (that’s how Daria and her friends use it), and sometimes it is hurled as an accusation toward anyone or anything we think is false. I wanted to explore this subject matter because I feel passionately that there is more than one way to be authentic. To me, being authentic only means being true to oneself, and that looks different for every human being. That might be why the relationship between Daria and her ex-best-friend Heidi (who Daria calls a “Nose Job”) is one of my favorites in the book. Daria considers Heidi inauthentic for focusing so much on her appearance, while Heidi feels that she is authentic because she is projecting the person she wants to be. To me, both characters are authentic in their own way, and their journey is to see authenticity in someone who is different from them. I recently read this quote from one of my favorite singers, Lana Del Rey, who is constantly accused of being inauthentic, and she said a lot of smart things on the subject: “Of course. I’m always being myself. They don’t know what authentic is. If you think of all the music that came out until 2013, it was super straight and shiny. If that’s authentic to you, this is going to look like the opposite. I think that shit is stylized. Just because I do my hair big does not mean I’m a product. If anything, I’m doing my own hair.”

I just found and read Madonna’s picture book The Adventures of Abdi at my local library. Are you certain there’s no connection to you?

There are few things I want more in the world than to be connected to Madonna. I fell in love with her when her very first video was released, and made my parents take me to The Virgin Tour despite being way too young for it. Not long after that, I converted a room in our home into “The Madonna Room” (no, this is not a joke). You can imagine my extreme excitement when I saw that Madonna had released a book about the adventures of a boy named Abdi, who does look a little like me. Sadly, I have no proof that the character is connected to me, though I can confirm I knew some people who worked with Madonna at the time, and that she signed an autograph to me well before the book was released, so perhaps my name seeped into her subconscious somehow. A boy can hope.

What’s up next for you in writing? Are we likely to see more YA books from you?

I write both screenplays and novels. In my screenwriting life, I am currently adapting a phenomenal documentary called “Out of Iraq” into a narrative feature. It’s the story of two Iraqi men who fall in love against the backdrop of the Iraq War, and their struggle to be reunited when one moves to the United States and the other gets stuck in the bureaucracy of the immigration system. It’s an honor to adapt it. In my life as an author, I am committed to continuing to write young adult fiction. Writing “The Authentics” was so gratifying, and I have more stories to tell in this space. I’m about halfway done with my next book, so I shouldn’t say too much about it, but I can say that it is probably the most personal writing I’ve ever done, and that it tells the story of a love triangle between three teens who get caught up in the world of AIDS activism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Is there anything you would like to tell our readers that I didn’t ask?

I’d like to say thank you to the young adult reading community for demanding diverse reads from publishers. Reading young adult fiction gives me so much hope for our future. I believe storytelling is our greatest tool for creating empathy, and seeing the way young people are demanding and consuming literature about characters who don’t look or think like them is so exciting to me. It’s easy to be pessimistic about the world, and seeing a book like The Hate U Give on the bestseller list makes me optimistic. Discovering there is a whole community of Iranian YA authors makes me optimistic. Reading YA books about cultures and experiences that were foreign to me gives me hope. And that’s all the result of readers creating demand for these stories. So, I’d like to just say thanks, and keep seeking out stories you may not think are for you.


Abdi Nazemian spent his childhood in a series of glamorous locations (Tehran, Paris, Toronto, New York), but could usually be found in his bedroom watching old movies and reading. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his two children and his fiancé.

Abdi has written four produced films: MENENDEZ: BLOOD BROTHERS (Lifetime, 2017), THE QUIET (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006), CELESTE IN THE CITY (ABC Family, 2004), and BEAUTIFUL GIRL (ABC FAMILY, 2003). He also wrote, directed and produced the short film REVOLUTION (2012). He is proud to say his words have been spoken by the likes of Carmela Soprano, The Nanny, and The Girl With The Most Cake.

Abdi’s first novel, THE WALK-IN CLOSET, was released in 2015 by Curtis Brown Unlimited, and was awarded Best Debut at the Lambda Literary Awards. His debut young adult novel, THE AUTHENTICS, was released on August 8, 2017 by Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins.

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